UQ graduate works to prevent HIV spreading in Vietnam

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Community development organisations play a critical role in both the local and international social, cultural, economic and political systems.

Development organisations target sections of communities in an effort to enhance the lives that people lead through promoting justice, reducing poverty, improving health and building environments that are safe and secure for people to live and work in.

The University of Queensland is highly regraded for its courses in community development so it came as no surprise that AUSAID scholarship winner, Ms Nguyen Thi Le Huyen, chose to complete her Masters degree at Brisbane’s leading university.

In 2008 Huyen was sponsored to study a Masters of Development Practises at UQ where she gained the necessary skills and knowledge to prepare herself for her career in the profession.

Huyen says UQ presented a greater opportunity and included subjects that interested her when compared to the other Australian universities offering a similar degree.

“Looking at the profiles of the different universities in Australia I found that UQ had a variety of topics and subjects that interested me. The Master of Development Practice was one of the most interesting courses that I found.”

In addition to preferring UQ’s topics and structure, Huyen says she chose to study at UQ because of the advanced resources available and the convenient, central position of the St Lucia campus.

“UQ is a good location, the courses and lecturers there are very good. UQ also has good facilities, good libraries, research areas, it was very interesting to me.”

Since graduating in 2009, Huyen has been working for the international, non-for-profit human development organisation, FHI360, in her hometown of Hanoi, Vietnam.

FHI360 is an organisation dedicated to enhancing and improving lives through locally driven solutions in the areas of health, education, nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, gender, youth, research and technology.

Before studying a Masters degree, Huyen was employed as program assistant in the organisation. However since graduating, she has advanced to Senior Technical Advisor and credits her studies at UQ for this promotion.

“At UQ I improved my knowledge and research abilities a lot. So, when I came back to Vietnam I was offered a higher level of work, as a program officer. I am the technical officer of the project and it’s because of what I learnt from UQ. I have improved a lot and now more confident to do the work. I am also more knowledgable and more useful to my organisation.”

Huyen works in the unit of ‘HIV prevention for high risk populations’ across cities and urban areas of Vietnam.

“We are doing prevention work by helping the most at risk HIV people and preventing them from transmitting the disease to the community and their peers. At the moment we are doing more prevention for the men having sex with men because we see that there is a trend of HIV transmission around this group and we are doing it in the nine provinces in Vietnam. Before we did a lot of intervention for injecting drug users but now it seems theres less because of the awareness.”

She says the theories she learnt during her masters degree have been able to be successfully applied in this particular program.

“I learnt a lot from the course about project management, project planning, community development, multicultural context, about work, about people, about cultures and different communities. This has all helped me in being successful in my current work.”

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Current UQ journalism student, Samantha Wray-McCann, interviewing Huyen in Hanoi.

Senior lecturer of Community Development at UQ, Dr Peter Westoby, advocates the importance of studying a degree in development practise when working in a country like Vietnam.

“Vietnam is in a major transition; a period where its trying to stabilise itself with a bigger population and trying to create economic opportunities. It’s dealing with lot of social issues and historical issues related to conflict and war. So there issues within the world of development, therefore, doing a development program is pretty crucial for Vietnamese people to understand the forces shaping that nation from outside, globalising forces, as well as the forces shaping it from inside, culturally and economically.”

Dr Westoby says the Masters of Development Practise degree provides students with the knowledge they need to be proactive in the community development field.

“We’re really trying to equip people not to only think what’s happening or see what’s happening and analyse it, but to engage and prac-do social change work. So the program equips people with that.”

He also says UQ’s history in teaching community development is an advantage to its students.

“University of Queensland, uniquely, has a forty year history of teaching community development and there would be no other institution in Australia with that history. So there is forty years of teaching, linked very much to research on how community development works, so I think we have a real depth. In Queensland there are so many UQ graduates of community development practising locally and internationally. So we get a lot graduates in as guests that are now out there working. So current students get to hear great stories of practise from around the world. I don’t think any other institutions does that.”

As for Huyen, she continues to generate a positive change in Vietnam through her work in FHI360 and actively contributes to preventing the transmission of HIV aids.

“We are very proud that we are a very big organisation doing HIV aids prevention in Vietnam. I think this is very useful not only for the most at risk population, but for the whole community. When theres good prevention programs, the community around will benefit from it.”

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Samantha WrayMcCann

Samantha Wray-McCann is entering her fourth and final year at the University of Queensland, studying a dual degree in Journalism/Arts majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is excited about the invaluable experience she will gain whilst reporting in Vietnam, with her greatest passion being uncovering social and political issues. Samantha hopes one day to be a foreign correspondent for the ABC.

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